By: KURTIS LARSON
Three MLS teams are in action mid-week as preliminary home and home CONCACAF qualifiers get underway across the continent. Since the preliminary round began in 2008, MLS clubs are 1-4 all time in CONCACAF play-in games.
Major League Soccer has made it known that the league must compete at a high level in this tournament if the league is to be taken seriously. A reflection of that was seen earlier this week when it was announced that MLS was ranked 88th in the world by the IFFHS as far as strength goes.
Now, we all know there's no way MLS is the 88th best league in the world, but if MLS truly believes it's a top 20 league, it's time to take this competition seriously and make a run at the trophy.
Let's look at tonight's crucial CONCACAF Champions League matches.
Toronto FC vs. C.D. Motagua (HON) Tuesday at BMO FIELD, 8ET
Sporting five players from the 2010 Honduran World Cup squad, Motagua looks to be the most formidable test of the three MLS sides in action. With former TFC midfielder Amado Guevara pulling strings in the midfield, rest assured he'll have his team ready to compete in the opening leg at his former home.
Following last year's disastrous defeat to the USL's Puerto Rico Islanders, Toronto won't be satisfied with anything less than a multiple goal win at home. Knowing MLS' horrific road record in this tournament, TFC's outstanding home form must hold up if they hope to get through to the group stage.
"Champions League is something that can change the culture of soccer in this country," Julian de Guzman said in the days leading up to the game. "Champions League is a huge thing that TFC has been fighting for."
On paper, the game would appear somewhat even. That said, the Honduran league doesn't kick-off for another two weeks so Motagua may not be fully match fit. Toronto FC must take advantage of this and push the tempo at home. A repeat opening-leg loss all but seals their fate. Prediction: TFC 2 – Motagua 2
LA Galaxy vs. Puerto Rico Islanders (USSF-2) Tuesday at The Home Depot Center, 10ET
Following a magical run deep into the tournament two years ago, 2008-2009 semifinalist Puerto Rico travel to Los Angeles for the opening leg of their series with the Galaxy.
The Galaxy hope to enter the group stages for the first time since 2006 when they fell to Saprissa (Costa Rica) in the quarterfinals. Puerto Rico's league form may be struggling but the Islanders have a history of playing big in big time games, most notably with wins in the 2008-2009 tournament over Santos Laguna (MEX) and Cruz Azul (MEX).
"We do know a little about them," Bruce Arena said in a pre-game press conference."We know they've been successful in this competition and they understand how to play in this tournament."
Puerto Rico have been woeful on the road this season registering a 1-4-4 mark and it shouldn't get any easier facing the best team in MLS. The question remains, what kind of lineup with Bruce Arena come up with?
"The All-Star Game is secondary to this," he said. "Our objective is to get through this game comfortably." Prediction: Galaxy 3 – Puerto Rico 0
Seattle Sounders FC vs. Metapan (El Salvador) Wednesday at Quest Field, 10ET
El Salvador's Metapan finished last in their group at last year's tournament, but with four league titles in seven seasons, Seattle must take advantage of the home crowd as well as the synthetic field they're accustomed to.
The issue here is that Seattle is coming off a hard-fought league match Sunday night against the Rapids. With just a few days to recover, what kind of shape will the Sounders be in?
Is it time for guys like Miguel Montano and Roger Levesque to get runs up front and out wide, or will Sigi Schmid throw out a similar lineup to the one that registered a 2-1 win over Colorado?
"There's some close competition on the team for starting spots," Schmid said during practice on Monday. "We have to see who's healthy. The important thing is we want to win them all. We want to beat Metapan on Wednesday."
Seattle should be bigger, stronger and faster than their counterparts and should control this one from the get go. If styles hold true, look for the Salvadorans to sit back and push the counter. If Seattle's defense doesn't get caught flat, they should win comfortably at home. That said, the longer Metapan stays in this one, the more likely a difficult task awaits in the return leg next week. Prediction: Sounders 2 – Metapan 0